, Volume 33, Issue 1, pp 71-83
Date: 26 Jul 2009

Culturable bacteria associated with Antarctic lichens: affiliation and psychrotolerance

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Antarctic habitats harbour yet unexplored niches for microbial communities. Among these, lichen symbioses are very long-living and stable microenvironments for bacterial colonization. In this work, we present a first assessment of the culturable fraction of bacteria associated with Antarctic lichens. A phylogenetic analysis based on 16S rRNA gene sequence of 30 bacterial strains isolated from five epilithic lichens belonging to four species (Lecanora fuscobrunnea, Umbilicaria decussata, Usnea antarctica, Xanthoria elegans) shows that these represent the main bacterial lineages Actinobacteria, Firmicutes, Proteobacteria and Deinococcus-Thermus. Within the Actinomycetales, two strains group in the genera Arthrobacter and Knoellia, respectively. Most of the other Actinobacteria form well-supported groups, but could be assigned with certainty only at the family level, and one is in isolated position in the Mycobacteriaceae. The strains in Firmicutes and Proteobacteria belong to the genera Paenibacillus, Bacillus and Pseudomonas, which were already reported from lichen thalli. Some genera such as Burkholderia and Azotobacter, reported in the literature as also associated with lichens, have not been detected in this study. One strain represents the first record of Deinococcus in epilithic lichens; it is related to the species Deinococcus alpinitundrae from Alpine environments and may represent a new species. Further separated and well-supported clades indicate the presence of possibly new entities. Some of the examined strains are related to known psychrophilic bacteria isolated from ice and other extreme environments, others with bacteria distributed worldwide even in temperate climates. Most of the strains tested were able to grow at low temperatures, but tolerated a wider range of temperature. Ecological and evolutionary implications of these lichen-associated bacteria are discussed.